Terrapins’ paradox: 4-0, but still looking for to nail a ‘complete’ game
After four games, Maryland finds itself in a paradoxical position. The Terrapins have racked up statistics that boast of their scoring and takeaway prowess while still lacking a complete performance in the first month of the season.
“We haven’t played the perfect game,” Maryland coach Mike Locksley said Tuesday. “The perfect game is winning and meeting our standard, and we haven’t had any of those yet.”
Their best opportunity to put one together before the most difficult portion of the Big Ten schedule comes Saturday in College Park against Indiana.
“Unfortunately for me, I tend to dwell on what we didn’t do,” Locksley said. “And that’s where I struggle because my job is to continue to push. But there’s a fine line between pushing and then also celebrating the victories that we have right at that moment.
Celebrations are deserved considering the historic nature of Maryland’s first third of the season. Locksley’s 4-0 group boasts the Big Ten’s best total offense, averaging 450.5 yards-per-game, and has scored 31 or more points in their first four games for the first time in program history.
The defense has arguably been even better. Maryland’s only allowing 12.3 points-per-game and the Terrapins’ plus-8 turnover margin is tied for second-best nationally. After another four-takeaway performance in a 31-9 win at Michigan State last week, it’s the first time the Terrapins have forced four or more turnovers in back-to-back games in 18 years.
“I want us to make sure we we enjoy and celebrate them,” Locksley said of his team’s wins, “but we also have a standard. And to me, that’s where the the sweet formula [is] of taking care of winning while also playing to our standard.”
The Terrapins solved the slow start issue that had troubled them in Weeks 2 and 3, but struggled in the late stages against the Spartans, even while not allowing a touchdown.
“This time, we started out fast, and we had three red zone trips on offense where we didn’t score points. We threw an interception in the red area, you missed a couple field goals. And so to me, that’s what I’m talking about, the finishing and making sure that when we have opportunities, especially in a situational game of football, that we we close it out. And I didn’t think we finished strong,” Locksley said.
Still, 4-0 is 4-0, a mark Maryland has reached in two of the last three seasons. Visiting Indiana (2-2), who needed four overtimes to get past Akron last week, should provide Maryland the opportunity to achieve completion, though Locksley was quick to remind how pesky the Hoosiers can be.
“We’ve played one-score games against them each of the last few years,” Locksley said, noting quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa’s knee injury at Indiana last year that caused him to exit early. “This has always been one of those games that’s been a tough, tough game for the Terps, and I expect it to be the same here this week.”
Locksley specifically pointed out a Hoosiers defense that has six interceptions on the season — only one fewer than Big Ten-leading Maryland — and their linebacking corps, led by leading tackler Aaron Casey.
“They’ve got really good players who are good with disguising looks and really getting pressure on the quarterback,” Tagovailoa said. “Every year is different, but this year, they’ve got good players all around the field, in the box and the secondary … they’re ball-hawk guys who attack the ball.”
While coach and players wouldn’t admit to looking ahead to a win and a 5-0 mark for the first time in more than two decades, all expressed a desire to put everything together before a looming matchup with Ohio State next week.
“We feel pretty good, because we know that there’s a lot more that we can achieve,” receiver Octavian Smith Jr. said. “Going into this week, our goal is to have a complete game and truly show — to ourselves, not just to the world — what we’re capable of achieving this season.”